Fans of NBC’s cult comedy series Community were certainly happy to hear the news that Dan Harmon would be returning as showrunner, but will the show be able to hit the ground running after a season without him? Viewers will be able to judge for themselves shortly, but we’ve got a sneak preview of season five to share with you ahead of time. Rest assured that we’ll keep everything spoiler-free, suffice it to say that there are some great character turns, cameos and one-liners early on (no surprises there).
Community returns to NBC with a one-hour special starting Thursday, January 2nd at 8pm. Hit the jump for our preview.
Although the Greendale study group has already managed to attend a two-year community college for four years, the fifth season manages to once again unite them all in the hallowed halls of learning. Greendale is great as a central location, but after four years it’s difficult to find anything fresh about it. The paintball-riddled walls of the school may have gotten new coats of paint over the years, but it still acts as a rigid structure that keeps the students, and the narrative, from developing into something more.
That being said, the study group has all new reasons for returning to Greendale, some of which are predictably quirky while others are downright heartbreaking. Luckily, this transition is in Harmon’s hands. He attempts to not only take his characters back to their original personalities, but even metaphorically reboots the central plot point of the series in a fun team-building montage. Community needs this fresh approach after last season’s substandard run that attempted to replicate Harmon’s unique vision but only managed to produce a pale reflection of it.
For all of Harmon’s machinations, the early episodes of season five are still a bit shaky. It’s not surprising, considering the new season is a patchwork that incorporates Harmon’s original vision along with the more recent work of Moses Port and David Guarascio. Some jokes land better than others, which, of course, happens in any comedy. The ones that miss do so mostly because they rely on what have become cliches of the series (ie the Dean’s obsession with Jeff, Abed’s meta references, Jeff’s monologues, etc), but when characters step outside of their expected behavior we get some of season five’s best moments.
While the familiar faces have gotten a character overhaul of sorts for the new season, the show is further freshened up with altogether new arrivals. Early appearances from Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad) and Walton Goggins (Justified) bring a new energy to the show along with new characters for the gang to play off of. The new additions I’ve seen so far have worked great, whether it’s for a one-episode cameo or a season-long addition. And fans won’t have to wait too long to find out the narrative reason for Donald Glover only appearing in five episodes this season.
If season four of Community spooked you away from this show, now’s the time to come back. I’d give it a few episodes if you’re not hooked right away as it will likely take some time for both the show’s cast and its viewers to get back into the groove. If you took no issue with last season, then Harmon’s return probably won’t mean much to you one way or the other. At the same time, if the humor of Community never appealed to you to begin with, there’s nothing revolutionary that’s going to bring you into the fold now. But for those of you, like myself, who were fans of Community from the outset, season five is off to a promising start.
Community returns to NBC with a one-hour special starting Thursday, January 2nd at 8pm.